Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 5th day

I’ve a feeling England won’t last until lunch. Andrew Flintoff has forgotten how gifted he is in simply hitting the ball; Geraint Jones is far too desperate to impress anyone and there begins the tail. Kevin Pietersen’s still in though, the freak, so how about he gets his fourth score of 158 and puts on 220 with Monty Panesar, who ends up 121*?

Yeah, ok. Chat away.

Warne’s little jab

The whole debate about the English team selection and who is responsible for it is music to Australian ears, and Shane Warne must be finding the possible conflict between captain and coach to be an especially sweet tune.

In his Times column, Warne has obviously backed Flintoff against his old foe Fletcher.

A few of the England players stayed with us until the early hours. I think the spirit of 2005 lives on. I feel for Andrew Flintoff at the moment as he’s copping some unnecessary flak. It was the right choice to make him captain and I’m not sure if he’s getting the side he wants.

As a captain, you should get the players you want in the XI. If you’re looking around the field at 5pm and you’re not going to bowl a guy, then he shouldn’t be in your side. Having said that, England’s selection issues don’t really interest me, to be honest. To go 2-0 up in Adelaide was our aim at the start of the second Test, but a win for either side looked highly unlikely on the fourth day.

That sort of support is like when the Chairman of a football club issues a press release expressing full support of the manager. Warne might be pals with the likes of Flintoff off the field but that won’t stop him playing any head games necessary to win back the Ashes.

A rift through the English team?

This can not be a positive for England:

A MAJOR internal rift is brewing in the England camp following the revelation that coach Duncan Fletcher has been wrongly blamed for snubbing spin bowling cult hero Monty Panesar.

Fletcher is privately fuming at being held accountable for omitting Panesar from the Adelaide Test, a match where England’s No.1 spinner Ashley Giles took just 2-149 to leave his career hanging by a thread.

The Courier-Mail has learned that at team selection meetings in Adelaide, Fletcher leaned toward Panesar to play in the Test but captain Andrew Flintoff went for his Lancashire teammate, swing bowler Jimmy Anderson, who went on to perform poorly and may not play another Test on tour.

Flintoff won out after the issue was discussed by a committee of senior players including Geraint Jones and Andrew Strauss.

The fallout over the omission of Panesar has become so great in England that it is threatening to undermine Fletcher’s future as England coach and also drive a wedge between Fletcher and Flintoff.

It is remarkable England performed as well as they did in the Second Test given this dispute, and it is hard to imagine what the mood is like in the English camp now. These relevations make things work; the British media will be on to them like a pack of dogs on a three legged cat.

Don’t hang Duncan

Reading through the comments on yesterday’s post, I’m getting a distinct sense that Duncan Fletcher is going to be made the scapegoat for England’s defeat at Adelaide, unless England can turn around the series.

That would be grossly unfair to Duncan. England’s batsmen got themselves into this hole. It wasn’t Duncan Fletcher that came out and pushed, prodded and poked for half an hour while Warne got his rythm and line- it was Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell.

Strauss, for a former England captain, is particularly deserving of censure since he should know better. He certainly should not have had to be told that he needed to get a move on, and if he did need to be told, then it is the captain that had to tell him to get a move on.

England’s whole approach smacked of poor preparation. They had batted well enough last night, and presumed that was enough. However, batting for a draw requires a subtle change of mental approach, requiring new goals to be set without sacrificing that sense of positive play that keeps the opponents off balance.

Australia went into day five with the goal of bowling England out during the day- not to win the Test, just to let England know that they weren’t to be dominated so easily. England do not seem to have entered day 5 with a specific goal in mind.

And that’s the captain’s fault, not Fletcher’s. It must be something in England that Flintoff is too big a hero to be held to account for this defeat, but it seems pretty obvious to me that it is Flintoff, and his players, who has stuffed up.

Edit- That’s not to say that Fletcher hasn’t made some shocking decisions on this tour. However, at the start of this morning, England had what chessplayers would call a ‘book draw’ and they blew it. That wasn’t Fletcher’s fault.

Spin City

John Buchanan’s attempts to spin Australia’s bowling in the Second Test looked even more ineffective then Shane Warne’s leg-spinners.

Admittedly, the pitch offered nothing, and England batted superbly, but you can hardly say Australia have bowled well after taking only six wickets in nearly two full days.

McGrath spent time off the field fixing his boot in the opening session to ease a heel problem. Although he has not been complaining about the injury, his effectiveness was limited and his speed has dropped significantly on the flat surface. “He pounded down 20-plus overs,” Buchanan said, “so, so far so good.” He returned 0 for 103.

Warne gave up 167 runs for the wicket of Geraint Jones while Brett Lee also won praise from Buchanan for his 1 for 139. “I think Brett’s bowled exceptionally well,” he said. “He’s held his pace and bowled good lines. It’s encouraging for the second innings and the rest of the series.

“The measure of Shane’s bowling is how many bad balls there were. He bowled a couple late yesterday when he got tired and maybe a few today. His control has been excellent, he hasn’t got the rub of the green, a bit like Brett.”

Stuart Clark was the only bowler not to win compliments from Buchanan and he was the man who performed the best. Throughout the first two days he troubled England with short and full deliveries and added three victims to continue his strong series.

Excuse me while I roll my eyes at that one. McGrath was clearly not fully fit, and the Australian team heirarchy deserve censure for allowing him to play. Mitchell Johnson probably wouldn’t have fared any better but at least there wouldn’t have been a worry about him worsening an injury.

From an English point of view, the day belonged once again to Collingwood and Pieterson. They were, it has to be admitted, magnificent. They learned their lessons from Brisbane and gave England the whip hand. And it was good to see that Flintoff was prepared, late in the day, to lead aggressively from the front. Fancy declaring, and taking the new ball for himself. Full marks to Freddy on that one!

England can attack on day three. It will be interesting to see how Australia’s batsmen, and England’s bowlers, respond to the challenge.

Photos of England arriving in Australia

I’ve just put up Getty’s photos of England arriving at Sydney airport. Suddenly, it feels as though the tour really has begun. England’s mission now seems a lot clearer, if it wasn’t already abundantly obvious: bring that bloody urn home!

This. Is. Massive. See Flintoff here and the photo index of the tour here.

And here are some from Yahoo News courtesy of AP

Flags on England's plane after arriving in Australia

England fans cheer on their side who arrived at Sydney Airport

Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff wave to the cameras

Abandon all hope ye English that enter here?

Andrew Flintoff might not be able to avoid talking to the Australian media, but he’s best advised to avoid reading the media. As his team flies into Sydney today, the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage takes on a traditionally gloomy (if you are English) tone.

Mark Waugh, never backward in coming forward with his opinion, thinks it’s going to be a 4-1 walkover.

I’m not sure if Flintoff is good at two-up but he needs to win four out of five tosses to give England hope.

Even allowing for some luck with the coin, I’m predicting a 4-1 victory for the Aussies. England might sneak a Test, with Adelaide the most likely venue for that.

They have a decent record there and Australia have not been so good recently. It’s a vital toss to win, with the wicket difficult to chase runs on or survive on during days four and five. With virtually no rain around Australia, the likelihood of a draw goes out the window.

England have brought a squad of 16, with plenty of question marks about many of them. Their form since winning the Ashes has been ordinary at best. They did a super job to draw the Test series in India, but performances against Sri Lanka and Pakistan were below par.

Waugh’s not being totally dismissive. He does have some nice things to say about the newer players.

England look a slightly weaker team on paper than last time, but fresh faces might give them hope. James Anderson and Sajid Mahmood look useful pace bowlers who can swing the ball. Anderson has had an interrupted career bowling a full length, giving him a chance. Mahmood is raw but talented and could be a trump card.

Panesar is worth the gamble for England. He offers more attacking options for Flintoff than Giles (who has never won them a Test match against Australia).

Other positives for England are the growing stature of Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood as batsmen. I’m not convinced they are real dangers against our quality bowlers, but they have racked up some Test runs since we last met.

Game-breakers Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen need to fire. Flintoff will have a big workload, and Pietersen can be expected to cop the short stuff. They won’t have an easy time but should produce entertaining battles in the middle order.

There’s no way Ricky Ponting and Australian coach John Buchanan will allow any complacency to sneak into the camp. After hammering England at Lord’s, Australia might have underestimated England’s ability to bounce back and paid the price.

Like all cricket followers, I’m looking forward to this series and although England beat us last year, Australia will start clear favourites. We’ll bounce back strongly on home soil with a full-strength line-up.

In the same publication, Peter Roebuck, that doughty Somerset batsman-cum multimedia guru, ponders on an England fading into the sunset.

Although England’s batting will be boosted by the return of Alistair Cook and Marcus Trescothick, the bowling was more or less at full strength in India. Matthew Hayden and company will have taken heart from Steve Harmison’s loss of control and the punishment dished out to Sajid Mahmood and James Anderson.

About the only encouraging sign for England’s vast following was the sight of Andrew Flintoff trundling down a few overs in Ahmedabad. Although not at full pace, he was able to maintain his unerring line. Still, it is not easy to recover rhythm after a long break and the Lancastrian might not be much of a threat at the Gabba. Flintoff has a huge heart but his fitness and form with the ball will be followed closely.

Nothing much can be said about Flintoff’s captaincy except that he spoke well at press conferences and did not let it affect his game. He seems to be a straightforward leader. The choice of captain must have been touch and go because both Strauss and Flintoff were capable candidates. In the absence of any compelling reason to demote him, the vice-captain deserved his chance. He is an impressive figure in the game.

Ashley Giles has also been bowling in the nets. Most likely his solidity will be preferred to Monty Panesar’s potency. He ought to have been recuperating at home. England cannot afford to think only about the Ashes. It is important to keep going forwards.

Certainly it will be different in Brisbane. It is another form of cricket played in another country and in front of a large and devoted group of supporters. Moreover, England will have a properly constructed team. Still, it is better to win than to lose.

Well, um, yeah. You can’t argue with that last bit.

Flintoff’s looking mean

Utterly exhausted, and am unable to offer anything remotely intelligible at this hour of useless o’clock. However, I can tell you one thing: Andrew Flintoff is looking in mean health. David Graveney said Australia fear him and, seeing him at The Oval today, it’s hard to disagree.

I’m going to stop writing now as I’m reaching previously unknown heights of banality. Thoughts on today’s squad announcements? Leave ‘em below.

Who should be in England’s Ashes squad?

It’s very simple: who should be in England’s squad to tour Australia in November? It’s the most important squad announcement since, well, whatever. It’s huge. You get it, we all get it.

Should Jon Lewis get a chance? Has Stuart Broad shown enough? And who will you have as captain; Strauss or Flintoff?

All that kind of thing. I’m not around much today so leave your opinions and let’s work out the squad.

74% think Strauss should captain England for the Ashes

Sorry for the tabloid-like headline, but that’s what a hundred or so of you think. The poll continues and I’ll keep it open – and might run it again after The Oval, just to gauge public opinion.